First impressions: Samsung Galaxy K Zoom

samsung-galaxy-k-zoom

I’m pretty sold on the idea that I’m never going to buy another point and click camera again. I love to take pictures, and it’s still at the stage where it’s an enjoyable pastime for me but the point and click sits uncomfortably between the my full-blown DSLR, which I still have a lot of time and love for, and my iPhone 5S camera, which isn’t merely “good enough”, it’s often great. So with the point and click market dwindling, the inevitable first wave of camera-smartphones is upon us.

The Samsung Galaxy K Zoom, is an update of last year’s Galaxy S4 Zoom – both essential mid-range smartphones with a high-end camera attached to the back. Like all emerging categories, this appears to be a mix of fun, cutting edge features constrained by technological restrictions that have a negative effect on things like usability and design.

Galaxy-K-zoom_out

Samsung tout the lens on the K Zoom as “professional grade” and whilst it does give you a range of options you wouldn’t get on a standard smartphone, don’t kid yourself that you can ditch your real camera. The lens has a focal distance of 24-240mm, the aperture goes from F3.1-6.3 and the ISO goes all the way up to 3200. The 20.7 megapixel BSI CMOS sensor should make your day to day snaps really pop, and the high ISO should help with grain free low-light images.

Of course the beauty of smartphones is the onboard processing power and there are a number of clever tricks thrown in to make it a bit more than a regular camera – and ultimately to help you to easily take better photos. You can split the focus and exposure (much like the Camera+ app) so you can get sharp, well lit images. You can also track objects, time selfies, and the camera will suggest which Instagram-like filters will suit your images.

Galaxy-K-zoom-pic3

However, the K Zoom, whilst slimmer than it’s previous iteration, is still bulkier than what people have come to expect from a smartphone. It’s also a fairly mid-range smartphone, so you’re compromising a little on everything else to accommodate the camera – most bizarrely on screen quality which is just 720p rather than the 1080p of the S5 (which is odd for an image focused device to sacrifice colour accuracy). The processor is also a step down from Samsung’s Tier One devices, making it a cellphone of compromise.

Preview round-up: Samsung Galaxy S5

samsung-galaxy-s5

Most followers of the technology world are now familiar with Samsung’s annual pattern of launching premium Galaxy models to showcase its technology. This year’s Galaxy S5 was the star of Mobile World Congress and Samsung said at the launch that it will be available from 11th April in 150 markets, though there’s no official word on pricing as yet.

So is the GS5 worth waiting for and has it wowed the press?

Engadget says that, “Despite its familiar design, the GS5 has a few new useful hardware features, including a fingerprint scanner, heart rate sensor, and a toned-down TouchWiz UI on top of Android 4.4 KitKat.” It concludes its preview with a rather luke warm, “All told, it’s very much a run-of-the-mill Galaxy S flagship, but there are enough new hardware features and software tweaks to make it feel fresh.”

The GS5 is expected to cost around £550 according to TechRadar. It wasn’t impressed with the design though, “…it’s the same tired story on the design front: taking some elements from the predecessor, adding in some bits from the current Note and calling it all new.” It also notes that the phone is markedly bigger than the S3 and S4.

The design didn’t do much for CNET either. “…those tiring of Samsung design sameness and looking for a radical new look and feel don’t have as many reasons to stay if they aren’t moved by the phone’s fingerprint scanner or heart monitor.”

Never mind the design, feel the features

When it comes to the phone’s features there’s a lot for critics to get excited about. It was the GS5’s performance potential that made an impression on Stuff, “Centre stage is its quad-core Snapdragon 805 processor, which runs at a blistering 2.5GHz. This chip, paired with 2GB of RAM, means the phone shouldn’t have any bother smoothly running any app you throw at it.” There are strong rumours of an octo-core version becoming available for some markets too.

Stuff also commented on the quality of the device, “The dimpled, matte soft-touch back is much nicer to look at and hold than the faux-leather hard plastic of recent Galaxy Note phones and tablets, and the overall feeling is one of solidity and quality.”

The S5 will come in a range of colours
The S5 will come in a range of colours

This quality extends to waterproofing, Samsung claims the phone can be immersed in water for as long as half an hour – good news for those who’ve ever killed a mobile by dropping it in the bath, or worse. TrustedReviews spotted another handy day-to-day feature in the new Ultra Power Saving mode, “This is an intensive low-power mode that cuts out almost all phone functions but the basics like calls and texts. Samsung says it’ll last for up to a day with just 10 per cent of battery left – if only in standby.”

The built-in fingerprint scanner, a feature which brings the Galaxy into line with the iPhone, came in for particular praise from Wired, “You can use it to unlock the phone, to verify a PayPal payment while using a mobile shopping service, and to verify your Samsung account. All of this is done by just pressing a single finger against the home button… Activating the recognition is quick and neat, and all of the fingerprint recognition attempts I’ve made since I got a hands-on unit have worked perfectly.”

The faster camera, upgraded from 13 to 16 megapixels and with improved auto-focus, caught Wired’s attention too, “…it takes just 0.3 seconds from launching the app to actually hearing the shutter sound.”

Overall the design may have left some commentators less than impressed, but there’s no doubt that the GS5 is a powerful smartphone and features like the new fingerprint scanner and the improved camera will help to maintain its competitive edge against its rivals. The build quality takes things to a new level for Samsung too, however, with the HTC One 2 and LG G3 on the horizon buyers may want to hold off choosing a new smartphone for a little while longer.

You can find out more about the S5 on the Samsung UK web site.

Samsung announces budget 7-inch Galaxy Tab 3 Lite

Samsung

In its never-ending quest to bring out gadgets to cover all possible screen sizes, price points and design styles, Samsung has announced a new, slimmer version of the Galaxy Tab 3 tablet. The new 7-inch slate is aimed squarely at the budget tablet shopper, putting it in competition with Tesco’s popular Hudl device, among others.

The original Galaxy Tab 3 is by no means a world-beater, but the Tab 3 Lite cuts the specs back even further: there’s a 1.2GHz dual-core CPU under the hood, 1GB of RAM and a display running at 1,024 x 600 pixels. The bezel is smaller than on the original Tab 3, though the 7-inch screen size is the same. You get a measly 8GB of internal storage (though you can pop in a memory card if you like). There’s a single 2-megapixel camera around the back, and the device comes with Android 4.2 Jellybean pre-installed (complete with Samsung’s usual collection of tweaks and add-ons). Black and white editions will be available to potential buyers.

Nothing to write home about then, but perhaps something cheap that might suit the kids (though there are enough tablets that fall into this bracket already). Engadget’s Jamie Rigg rightly points out that the new device doesn’t bring much to an already crowded market: “If Samsung hopes to sell these things en masse, anything but seriously cheap is going to put a stop to those plans,” he writes.

CNET’s Lance Whitney also reserved full judgement until the price is announced: “The full 8GB Galaxy Tab 3 retails for $200, so the Lite model will have to sell at a more appealing price to win over buyers,” Whitney says. His UK colleague Nick Hide wasn’t blown away by the specs on offer, describing the screen resolution as “abysmal” and the design “old fashioned looking”.

So what is the newly official Galaxy Tab 3 Lite up against? The Tesco Hudl is heavier, but has a much better display and a front-facing camera. It’s also faster, though a full comparison isn’t possible until Samsung lets us know just how much its latest piece of kit will cost. There’s also the Asus MemoPad HD, a similar bargain-basement 7-inch tablet that has a slightly better display and a slighter faster CPU. In terms of bang-for-buck, Google’s own Nexus 7 remains the best choice for Android slabs at this size — it’s not the cheapest option, though, which is why other companies have tried to muscle in.

It’s all down to the price as to whether this will be a budget option for users or a complete non-starter, then — some UK retailers have it listed for slightly less than the £119 Hudl, but stock hasn’t yet arrived so these prices may be estimates. If we hear officially from Samsung, we’ll update this post accordingly.

Samsung offers ‘gifts’ with Galaxy NotePRO and TabPRO

samsung-galaxy-tabpro

Today at CES 2014, Samsung announced that it has teamed up with more than 11 of the world’s leading mobile content and service providers to offer its Galaxy TabPRO and NotePRO users with the pre-paid, long-term subscription offers from best-selling news, social media and cloud storage providers.

Here is the current list (which is dependant on your location):

Bitcasa
1TB storage for 3 months

Bloomberg Businessweek+
Free Subscription: 12 Months

Blurb
Free Coupon

Cisco WebEx Meetings
6 month free subscription and unlimited meetings

Dropbox
Free 50 GB for 2 years (100GB for $99/year)

EasilyDo Pro
Free app purchase

Evernote
3-12 month free subscription (dependent on country)

Hancom Office
Free Subscription

LinkedIn
3 months of LinkedIn Premium Membership

LIVESPORT.TV
6 month free subscription

NY Times
Free Subscription: 12 weeks

Oxford Advanced Learner’s A-Z
Free app purchase

Remote PC
2 year free subscription

Sketchbook Pro
Free app purchase

Find out about the new Galaxy NotePRO and TabPRO at http://www.samsung.com/uk/discover/news/samsung-at-ces-2014

Samsung unveils faster, more powerful, Galaxy Camera 2

samsung-galaxy-camera-2

With CES just around the corner, Samsung has announced the Galaxy Camera 2, a follow-up to its popular Galaxy Camera, which was the world’s first Android-powered digital camera to fuse smartphone functionality with a point-and-click camera.

As you’d expect with any yearly refresh, Samsung has improved up the spec list in several areas – so instead of 4GB onboard storage (upgradable to 64GB via SD) you now get 8GB of storage. RAM has doubled, too, meaning Android 4.3 Jelly Bean zips along at a fair old pace alongside the new 1.6GHz quad-core processor.

One area where Samsung hasn’t improved upon, though, is the 4.8-inch display, which is the same as the last model.  Oddly the Galaxy’s camera sensor is the same 16-megapixel BSI CMOS sensor that you’d find on the old 2012 model too – which on the face of is a bit disappointing.

Elsewhere Samsung has kept the cameras’ impressive 22x zoom, whilst the snapper’s chassis has shed a few millimeters and grams along the ways too. Battery life has also been upped, despite its lighter build, and now comes with a 2000mAh battery, which is a good jump from the original’s 1650mAh unit.

galaxy-camera2

Sharing is made even easier with the new model as there’s Wi-Fi and NFC. The new Tag & Go feature makes it easy to connect the Galaxy Camera 2 to NFC-enabled smartphone for easy sharing.

Where you’ll find the main bulk of improvements, though, is the shooting modes, where The Verge “found a ton of new smart scene modes” – 28 apparently – which should help users set up shots much more easily. The camera is also able to shoot 1920×1080 HD video and is capable of capturing slow-motion video at a sloth-like 120 frames per second.

Pocket-lint concluded that while some of the improvements to the new Galaxy Camera 2 are noteworthy, you’d probably be better served picking up the original, which apparently is “still available for £200 from Jessops” – whereas the new model will probably set you back double that.

We’ll have to wait until the camera is shown off at CES next week for details on the release date, or the price.

Samsung’s New Smartwatch, It’s The Year Of The ‘Wearable’

colours-samsung-gear-smartw

Surely the worst kept secret leading up IFA was the launch of Samsung’s smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear.  Everyone knew it was coming, but what exactly would it look like, and how many features would they pack in? Well, these questions and more have now been answered. The Gear, available in Europe from the end of this month (September 25th) is designed to work with the new Galaxy Note 3 and an update will be available later in the year make it compatible with previous versions of the Note.

The Gear is available in six colours, has a stainless steel bevelled face with a shape reminiscent of the beloved 1980s Casio and features a 1.9MP camera on the outward facing strap, which can also record video at 720p HD. All of this makes you feel rather like James Bond, being able to take relatively covert pictures with a simple swipe and tap of the screen via the device’s “Memographer feature”. It is aimed at taking quick visual memos – the sort of shots that are gone by the time you’ve taken your smartphone out of your pocket.

Another feature of the Gear’s camera was its ability to take advantage of augmented reality applications, presumably aimed to rival the Google Glass, but unfortunately this wasn’t something the company expanded on or demonstrated during the launch event. Instead they cited an example where you might take a picture of a wine bottle  and then discover more about the vineyard, grape type and price. It could also be used when abroad to help quickly translate signs, menus etc.

The Gear has a built in speakerphone which means to answer calls you just raise your wrist as if you were answering a hand held phone (or scratching your ear!). This appears to be a nice, instinctive movement, but we did wonder how well it would work if you were in the middle of a task, such as driving.  Users can also draft messages, create new calendar entries, set alarms, and check the weather, all via S Voice functionality.

galaxy-gear-smartwatch-colors

Other software features include the ability to browse, play and pause music (stored on your Galaxy devices) via the watch. The Gear also comes with Find My Device which helps users find the location of their smart devices by making them beep, illuminate and vibrate. Another application is the pedometer which uses a built-in sensor to monitor users so they can track key personal data such as calories burned, steps taken and distance covered.

Something that we don’t recall being mentioned during the company’s Unpacked Event is that in case of emergency, you can press the power button 3 times continuously and then your location information is sent to a nominated contact with a message.

galaxy-gear

In terms of technical specs, the Gear uses a 800 MHz processor with 512MB RAM and 4GB of internal memory. The display is a 1.63 inch Super AMOLED with a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels. The watch is powered by a 315mAh Li-on battery which provides up to 25 hours battery life. This revelation certainly caused quite a murmur from the packed audience.  It has also been suggested elsewhere that ‘heavy users’ of the Gear’s features may need to end up charging their watch more than once a day.

The Galaxy Gear is touted by Samsung as the first in the new market of ‘wearables’. With the launch of Sony’s Smartwatch 2 earlier in the day, it appears that we’re going to enter a period where a lot of ideas and concepts are thrown at the wall to see what sticks. Assuming that ‘wearables’ are indeed the future, the next question is whether consumers will want to wear their tech on their wrist or on their face.

In Other News… Samsung Unpack Galaxy Note 3

galaxy-note-3-review

While the highlight of last night’s Samsung Unpacked was the Samsung Gear, we also had the chance to get hands on with the newest edition of the Note family. The Galaxy Note 3 has a more premium feel than the previous model, having a stitched leather back – rather than plastic. It is available in several colours and has two flip cover styles, one with a window.

The Note 3 has maintained its slim profile, being 8.3mm deep. However it’s still very much a phablet, rather than phone, coming in at 5.7 inches long. The bright clear super AMOLED screen is 1080p and the Note 3 also features a 13MP camera.

The S Pen has increased functionality based around a dot, circle and square system. Hover the pen and you will see a dot and by clicking the S Pen’s button you get the air command menu. This includes action memo, scrap book, s finder and pen window.

Action memos can be typed, handwritten or photos. Scribbled phone numbers can be easily added to your contacts and meeting dates/times added to your calendar. The scrapbook tool is a great way of collecting content from various websites, emails, etc. and can be organised into your own folders. You simply draw a circle around the content you want, including text and images and it will save it for you. We found this easy to use but it did tend to grab more information than we wanted.

The Note 3 colour range
The Note 3 colour range

The S finder search function should be great, Samsung claim it can search not only typed data but also your handwritten notes – we found it struggled with this, but perhaps that was because it wasn’t calibrated to our handwriting!

The pen window enables you to draw a shape, which gives you an area to display any of your most used apps. So you can draw a calculator the size you want, where you want, and it will then appear overlayed on your current screen. Again, we found this a little limited, with it refusing to create a window if the box was too small.

Overall the Galaxy Note 3 continues to offer increased functionality (largely thanks to the S Pen) compared to most other phablets and it’s more stylish to look at. However we found some of these new features fiddly to use and it may be the case that Samsung should now focus on refining these features before launching any new ones.

The Note 3 has been designed to complement the Galaxy Gear watch and it will be interesting to see how well they work together, watch this space for more on that.

  • Samsung’s S9C (Curved OLED TV) Gets UK Launch

    samsung-s9c-oled-tv

    Looks like a 55” Pringle, actually a telly. Say hello to the Samsung S9C.

    The brand’s first ever curved OLED TV – and the world’s second ever curved OLED set, following LG’s 55EA980V – the S9C is already available in Korea, parts of Europe and the US. From September 5th, it will be available in the UK.

    Perhaps the largest TV-shape revolution since widescreens emerged 15 years ago, the curved design takes the lead from IMAX technologies. Mirroring the natural curvature of your eye, the idea is the screen creates more depth, allowing for a more immersive, cinematic experience. Close your eyes and you can smell the popcorn. No wait, don’t close your eyes… You’re watching the TV.

    Of course it’s not just about the striking design and screen shape, the S9C has loads to boast about… Being OLED, the pixels are self-emitting. There’s no need for backlighting or colour filters and the screen’s contrast ratio is top of the range, creating more true-to-life colouring and allowing absolute blacks to grace our screen for the first time (unless you have one of the aforementioned LG 55EA980Vs of course).

    There’s more; the S9C is the very first TV to offer Multi View functionality. Ever been frustrated with your partner’s viewing choice and don’t want to wait to watch your chosen show or film later? Then you’re in luck; the 55” screen can be split to show two full HD screens!

    Sound clash not included; just don the 3D glasses… They come complete with full stereo speakers, allowing you to tune into your own chosen content (3D or conventional HD) and completely ignore the viewer sitting beside you.

    Naturally with this type of functionality the S9C is full smart-enabled with categories for on demand programs, movies, social networks, applications, photos, videos and music. There’s also a platform for hard and software updates. What’s most interesting about the smart functions is Samsung’s own S Recommendation feature. Exploring your viewing data, it makes suggestions on other content that suits your tastes and habits.

    Samsung haven’t given any prices with their announcement but, based on prices elsewhere in the world, the S9C is rumoured to go for about £6500-7000. Steep? Possibly, but not over the top considering the technology at play, plus that it’s almost £1000 cheaper than its LG competitor.

    Whether the curved revolution will truly take over the TV world remains to be seen; certain tech commentators have been quick to call the shape ‘gimmicky’ and have highlighted the fact that if you’re not sat directly in front of the screen the curve will actually detract from the experience. But at a cool 55” inches, there’s plenty of space to fit all of my family. And two screens to keep us happy, too.